NPR logo The Journal Is The Destination (A Hat Tip To Dan Eldon)

Daily Picture Show

The Journal Is The Destination (A Hat Tip To Dan Eldon)

Habitual journaling has given society insight into the minds of great writers, from Franz Kafka to Virginia Woolf. But how does a photographer keep a journal? What happens when the pencil is secondary?

Michael Todd, a Los Angeles-based photographer originally from Manchester, England, has been working on his "visual diary" for years. He started the journals in art school as a receptacle for his darkroom contact sheets, a home for images that would otherwise be discarded. From there, the photograph-filled sketchbooks became their own entity. He often washes the pages with watercolor, embellishes them with sketches, and specifically sizes digital prints to lay out and paste in the books.

Todd notes Peter Beard as a muse; for The Picture Show team, the technique brings to mind the journals of Dan Eldon, whose book The Journey Is the Destination was published after his death at age 22 in Somalia.

Unlike many artist sketchbooks, Todd does not return to them to garner ideas for new work. "I don't use them for inspiration but more like a photo album. I go back to them for a nostalgic reason, to remember a trip or time in life," he says.

For example, Todd recalls rediscovering a page that marked when he quit smoking — a photograph of a packet of cigarettes with the cigarettes pulled out and broken in half.

Todd originally kept his sketchbooks private to avoid feeling pressure from outside observers. This allowed him not to stress over the final page layout, since he kept them all to himself.

"I'll do a page, and the next day think it looks terrible, but I just leave it and try to do better on the next page. ... I do it and get up the next morning and look at the page I did yesterday; it's a nice little thing to look forward to."

But, due to the encouragement of a friend, the once-private journals are now on Todd's website. "They used to be a bit more daring; I would rip and burn the pages. They're a bit more conservative now. Or maybe I've become more conservative," Todd says.

Despite making them public, the original purpose of the journals as a personal creative outlet has endured. "I know people will see them, so I'm not as experimental, but I do try to please myself. ... That's the main thing; I really try to do them to please myself."

Todd features pages from the journals on his website along with his editorial work. He even took them to New York to show editors along with his traditional portfolio, which elicited mixed reactions. While some editors were eager to see the sketchbooks, Todd thought others were concerned they were about to turn the pages of something deeply personal. "They're a little window into the way I think. ... It's really my own little world."